The sound of western medicine working

Antibiotics are a pretty amazing thing.

But in my life, I’ve never seen it work, only read about it in books such as All Creatures Great and Small or heard stories about how the amazing things that happened when my grandfather was a pediatrician.

It’s now more of a preventative, or to make our cattle a little bit bigger, or keep our chickens from dying in their horrible living conditions. But every so often you’re reminded…

Being sick

Being sick

I’ve been sick off and on pretty much continuously since June. This time, it was really unusually bad. A fever brought back the cold symptoms. But the fever was a clue, that maybe, this time, it might be a bacteria also. So when I finally got well enough that I could make it out of my apartment without dying (three days), I scheduled an appointment and got my meds again—the same antibiotic as last time. It wasn’t hard when you have a hundred degree fever plus the same symptoms as before.

On the MUNI ride back, I opened the package, looked at the first two caplets. “My little, red tactical nukes,” I sighed to myself, and popped them into my mouth. By the time I got home, I was so tired from the exertion I fell straight asleep.

Three hours later I woke to noises: a rumbling, a ratatatat, then a whale sound in my stomach. What the fuck? As consciousness returned, this was followed by assorted burping and farting and all manner of disgusting symphony.

I took my temperature: 98.6, spot on. I hadn’t had that temperature in over a week.

So that’s the sound of western medicine working, I nodded appreciatively.

I still have the cold to deal with, but now was the time to eat as my appetite finally came back…and to think, with a small regret, I could’ve really gotten some payback on my brother, some of my housemates, and assorted guy friends.

And this made me think back to a phone conversation I had over a decade ago.

[more sounds, after the jump]

My H. pylori story

It was the mid 90’s and the girl on the other end of the line was talking about her stress. So much that she had stomach ulcers. “I have to take some prescription Zantac or something. The stuff is really expensive.”

“You’re way too young to be getting ulcers. You sure it’s the stress and not some bacteria?”

“What do you mean?”

“Did your doctor test for H. pylori?”

“What’s that?”

“It’s bacteria that can live in your stomach.”

“I thought nothing can live in your stomach.”

The discovery of H. pylori is one of the most amazing stories in modern medicine. When you think of doctors involved (“backwater” Australians), the audacity of their claim (that bacteria could live in the high acidity of the stomach) and the size of the medical business invested against them (even in the 80’s, acid-reducing treatments like Zantac were a billion dollar drug business), it is an amazing story, right up until the point where one of them swallows a petri dish full of it to silence the skeptics. They deserved the Nobel Prize they got in 2005.

But this was 1996.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from telling her the story, and, since this wasn’t 1986, it ended with a “Go to your doctor and ask him to test for H. pylori. If he won’t find one who will. In fact, don’t bother calling me again until you have.”



A month later

“So you were right.”

“It was H. pylori?”

“Yes. They took a culture and found an antibiotic just like you said.”

“Ahh. So the ulcers are gone?”

“Yeah, but I was burping and farting for almost a week. It was awful—worse than the ulcer.”

“Wait a minute. You’re telling me, you’d rather pay $100 a week for prescription antacids and live with stomach ulcers for the rest of your life than endure a week of burps and farts?”

Women, I’ll never understand them.


Parting shot.

5 thoughts on “The sound of western medicine working

  1. Dude, good article, but I have to object to your description of Marshall and Warren as “backwater” Australians. Australia has excellent quality medical schools, hospitals and a huge medical research industry – oh, and we have socialized medicine to boot, while spending less on it per capita than the US.

  2. Laura,

    “Backwater” was in quotes for that very reason. I’m trying to attribute an attitude to NIH and the american medical community of dismissing an idea via ad hominem (because it didn’t come from the United States).

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